November, 2010

I first met my friend Dave Lingenfelter 25 years ago. Dave was a law school classmate of mine and we quickly became close friends. I was Dave’s best men when he got married the first time, and he was my best man when Susan and I got married. He also is someone I envy because he can honestly call himself a recovering lawyer, something I aspire to be. Dave had the first personal computer I ever saw, an Apple IIe (this was before the McIntosh, after all). My, how times have changed.

Dave is also a fabulous writer. I’ve always envied his ability with words, and I wish he would write more often. Last Friday, in commemoration of Remembrance Day, he sent me the following musings that he had composed. They’re so good that I asked for, and received, permission to share those musings with all of you. Dave gets it.


I stand in the same spot that I stood as a boy: before me a granite marker that lies by a low stone wall bordering a broad open field. As a boy, I saw only those things. As a man, I see what happened there so long ago.

The boys that died in that field did not see what lay before each one of them. They saw only what was there: the crops in the field, a low stone wall on the other side of the field and, to be sure, they saw the boys behind that wall with their cannon and their rifles. Not one of them saw, not one of them could see, his own death in that field. Each one of them saw that death would rain down on them from those cannon and rifles. But nature had endowed each of them with the utter inability to comprehend that death is not in the third person. And so, when told to advance by a man who could see what they could not and remained at the rear, every one of them walked into that field.

So it has always been and so it will always be with boys.

Why should boys be so blind? Boys meander carelessly, blissfully unaware of their circumstance. Boys are not simply blind but are incapable of appreciating that they are blind. Dire warnings pertain to other boys. Boys walk unhurriedly because they see no end to their field, no stone wall, no cannon pointed at them. Not today, not tomorrow, and if not now, then never. So boys have their youthful, exuberant dalliances, despite the efforts of the men who would mentor them.

For if by youthful good fortune we manage to avoid the cannon that would quickly teach us the lesson of our mortality, one morning we unexpectedly wake as terrified men. We suddenly see that we are ourselves in the field and that the cannon and rifles are pointed not at us but at me. We laugh with amazement that we have survived our journey so far, having stumbled blindly along for so long. Then we realize, to our horror, that the field in which we find ourselves is level and open, with no cover from the cannonade, no route to safety, and no retreat possible.

I stand in the same spot that I stood as a boy. Now I see what I could not have seen as a boy. I was a boy, just as they were, and I was immortal. No cannon could set its sights on me, so I dallied. I wandered along a path that men set out for me. Though they could see that which I could not comprehend, I found no urgency in the mission.

I return to that spot as a man and a mortal. I see that which has always been there: the sights of cannon lie squarely on me. Still, my sight is limited: I see the cannon but I can not see how far the fuse has run.

So, my young friend, please pardon this old man if he rushes by in seemingly inexplicable haste. The cannon, you see, make my journey increasingly urgent.

I found it to be very moving. I hope you did too. Like I said, Dave gets it.

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Prof. Brooks Simpson sums up my position on the issue of Black Confederates quite nicely here. So what, indeed.

Neo-Confederates and Lost Causers like to argue that blacks served in the Confederate army willingly because it puts a more human face on the issue of slavery. A few may well have served for reasons entirely of their own. Most would have done so involuntarily for the simple reason that they were slaves.

At the end of the day, though, so what?

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The Battle of Brandy StationKen Williams has written an especially flattering review of my Brandy Station book in the November issue of The Civil War News:

The Battle of Brandy Station:
North America’s Largest Cavalry Battle
By Eric S. Wittenberg
(November 2010 Civil War News)

Illustrated, photographs, maps, notes, appendices, bibliography, 271 pp., 2010, The History Press,, $24.99, softcover.

The History Press continues its Civil War Sesquicentennial Series with another concise history of a major battle in the war — this time the June 9, 1863, fight at Brandy Station between the cavalry forces of the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac.

Veteran Civil War cavalry author Eric Wittenberg brings his considerable skills to the task of describing this important opening of the Gettysburg Campaign.

The author states that this book is not intended to be the definitive work on the battle. He notes that an upcoming work by Clark B. “Bud” Hall promises to be more comprehensive. That said, Wittenberg’s book is, in this reviewer’s opinion, superior to the 1959 Fairfax Downey account, Clash of Cavalry, which has long been the standard work.

The Battle of Brandy Station presents a compelling narrative of the events leading up to the momentous clash of June 9, along with concise mini-biographies of the leading participants.

Each side’s plans and movements are described and analyzed. The fluid and chaotic account of the fighting is handled with great ease by an author well-versed in the details of cavalry fighting.

Superb action maps by Steve Stanley add greatly to the combat narrative. Photographs and illustrations of participants, period views and modern locales are generously interspersed throughout the text.

Two appendices accompany the account — orders of battle for both Federal and Confederate forces plus a walking and driving tour of the battlefield that includes GPS coordinates. An extensive bibliography is included along with copious endnotes. Unfortunately there is no index.

Wittenberg is even-handed, covering both sides in detail and meting out praise and criticism often to the same individuals. His use of first-person accounts and a well-honed ability to describe cavalry fighting bring the thunder of thousands of hooves, the clang of steel upon steel and the crack of carbines to life for the reader.

As a work on a very important episode in the development of cavalry fighting in the Civil War, this book is highly recommended.

Reviewer: Kenneth Williams

Kenneth D. Williams is writing a book on the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteers and is doing doctoral level work in American history. He has worked as a park ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site.

Luckily, the second edition of the book now includes a full index, which is a significant improvement. I had understood that the first edition would have included one, and was disappointed when it didn’t. Fortunately, The History Press heard enough complaints about the lack of an index–including mine–and has now added one.

Thank you very much for the kind words, Ken. I really appreciate it.

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